Compared to previous seasons, the current crop of D-League prospects is probably the most talented that it’s ever been since the league’s inception in 2001. From the elite prospects to the folks struggling to get playing time, there’s more intriguing names in the NBA D-League than there’s ever been. Although the sheer depth of talent is a pleasant change, most of that top-notch talent being headlined by backcourt players isn’t much different than in years past.
As of the time of this piece, eighteen of the top-25 players in the NBA D-League’s most recent prospect watch are backcourt prospects. That guard dominance leaves the forwards and centers of the NBADL as the endangered species of these elite NBADL prospects. Although he currently doesn’t sit on the NBADL’s top-25 list, one frontcout that has impressed in the short D-League has been current Delaware 87ers big Shaun Long.
Long arrived in Delaware after having a terrific four-year career at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Throughout that entire career, Long stood as arguably the most consistent front-court prospect in mid-major basketball. That praise was due to Long averaging 17.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game on 50% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. His continued excellence allowed Long to be on the All-Sun Belt 1st team in three consecutive seasons (2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16).
Despite his excellent play at Louisiana-Lafayette, Long unfortunately wasn’t selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. Just a few days following the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers signed Long to a partially-guaranteed deal which meant that he’d be with the squad during Summer League and training camp.
Participating in both SLC and Vegas Summer League, Long thrived despite having limited playing time in both venues. In eight Summer League games, Long put up 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 58% from the field and 53% from beyond the arc in 13 minutes per game.
Despite it only being on 1.6 attempts per game, Long looked extremely comfortable with the transition to the NBA three-point long, something that even the most capable perimeter marksmen struggle with. While the sample size was minuscule, Long’s Summer League success gave him a plethora of momentum as he headed in to Sixers training camp.
Unfortunately, Long wasn’t able to maintain that momentum as he transitioned into Sixers training camp and preseason. Participating in Philly’s seven preseason games, Long struggled tremendously as he shot 34% from the field and acquired more fouls (14) than made field goals (11). Long’s horrendous Summer League play ultimately push the 76ers to waive him as the preseason closed. Fortunately, Long was able to join James Webb III and Cat Barber as the 76ers affiliate players that would join the Delaware 87ers.
In Long’s nine games with the Delaware 87ers, the 6’11 forward has put up 19 points, 10 rebounds and 1.4 block per game on 53% from the field in only 28 minutes per game. Long’s performance in the D-League becomes even more impressive when you realize that he averaged 3.1 offensive boards per game.
Long’s terrific offensive rebounding numbers make a ton of sense when he watch him inside the paint. Intensity is the name of the game for Long’s work inside the paint as he fights for a rebounding opportunity even before the ball leaves the shooter’s hands. That tenacity combined with his strong 255 pound frame makes Long an imposing inside threat that barely anybody in the D-League can handle.
Outside of his prowess on the offensive glass, Long stands as an incredibly versatile offensive player that can contribute in various ways on the offensive end. Those ways include: mid-range shooting, on and off-ball cutting and ability to post up on both the left and right block.
Although he’s solid at each of those skills, his go-to scoring method is probably as a post-up threat. As previously mentioned, Long is an effective threat on both the left and right block, mainly due to his smooth footwork. Long’s incredible footwork allows him to get an immediate advantage over the opposition, as he can use drop steps, spins or up-and-under moves to create scoring opportunities.
After making those moves, Long can be a huge threat in the low post based on his silky smooth touch from around the rim. From both the left and right block, Long can lace up a smooth hook, or break away from the post-up to attempt a mid-range jumper.
Although Long’s best offensive skill is as a post-up threat, most of his NBA potential rests behind his shooting stroke. Although Long hasn’t been able to succeed from beyond the arc, shooting an atrocious 17%, he’s been pretty effective from inside the perimeter. During the young D-League season, Long has shot 55% from mid-range on 18 total attempts.
Of course, pessimistic fans can point to a small sample size to discredit Long’s current mid-range success. However, it wouldn’t be too much to expect him to continue being solid as he has a pretty smooth shooting stroke, which you can see in the clip below.
Coinciding with his success as a mid-range shooter, Long establishes himself as a fantastic pick-and-roll big by being a very agile off-ball cutter. For a 6’11, 255 pound man, Long moves to the basket with the grace that you really don’t see from a man his size. Long’s agility and big frame makes him into a tantalizing target for any pass-first minded guard.
As we mentioned at the top of this piece, the vast majority of forwards and centers in the NBA D-League have been overlooked. Although the great crop of NBADL guards could be to blame for that, it would still be a mistake to overlooked talented bigs like Long.
Long shines as a 6’11, 255 pound big that can be help a team out in more than a handful of different ways. While most D-League forwards will probably continue to be overlooked, Shawn Long stands as a player that we could be seeing in the NBA pretty soon.